While in high school, I was so much of an overachiever that I couldn’t fit all my passions into my class schedule. So my love for art was relegated to an after school activity in a small “Gifted Arts” program. It was two hours after school once or twice a week with an art teacher where we worked on various projects and explored new styles since the handful of us in the class were talented but not taking an art class as part of our course load. During my sophomore year I had a wonderful teacher, Mr. Pitsenbarger, who was hands-on and taught me creative skills I still employ today when brainstorming a project. But my freshmen year teacher almost made me quit art.
I think the first problem stemmed from her way of structuring the program. Where Mr. Pitsenbarger had specific units and weekly projects with set goals, this teacher allowed us to develop our own large-scale projects and then work on them during program time with her help and critique. While this seems awesome in theory (Woo! No assignments! No rules!), it really made the entire experience a free-for-all where I didn’t really learn much in terms of art theory or skills or practice. She helped me do a little research when I decided to work three-dimensionally and encouraged me in certain directions, but really what ended up happening was me feeling pressured to make the piece a certain way (that is, her way) and so I lost the original inspiration I had for creating it. Which resulted in a hideous fabric covered box and a failed attempt at starching and wiring fabric into a sculpture.
I remember getting extremely frustrated with it because it had mutated out of my original idea to a point where I barely even recognized it and the teacher seemed irritated with me that I had taken on such an intensive project when it wasn’t even something I had wanted!
But the thing that struck a chord with me the most and what honestly put me off from making any art for several years was that she told me all my ideas were too “crafty.”
In a social media-infused world where “craftiness” is EVERYWHERE from artfully presented recipes to Dollar Store Hacks to holiday decoration tutorials, it seems weird that being told you’re “crafty” would come off as insult. Now being “crafty” is a pretty lusted after asset especially when you can show off your craftiness to your social media following daily. But at the time (and with the implication of being “too crafty”), it decimated my artistic confidence. Instead of embracing my artistic style (which involved collage, mixed media, and a fair amount of fabric) and helping me develop it even if it didn’t fit the “traditional” style of art she was used to teaching, she shot me down and boxed me into some preconceived notions of what art should be. Which ultimately lead me to resent her and resent traditional forms of art (besides my time with Mr. Pitsenbarger I haven’t developed any traditional art skills like sketching or painting in class format since then).
So now, years later, with little attention paid to my traditional art skills (which I deeply regret), I’ve come to realize that my craftiness is not a detriment to my art. While the art and creative projects I enjoy doing may never hang in the Louvre or the Met, they bring me joy. And for me, art is about the emotion–whether it’s joy or sorrow, empathy or anger.
I’m not painting grand landscapes on life size canvases, but I am making DIY costumes for cosplay like Judy Hopps for this past Halloween. And participating in the Creative Sprint where many times the goal is to make something out of nontraditional elements. I also started collecting magazines because I feel like getting back into collage and seeing what my life and creative experience since then will help me create.
I’ve also been super inspired by one of my fellow NextUp winners Cinnamon–known as the Art Sherpa on YouTube–to start painting again. I’ve been watching so many of her viewers post pictures of what they created based on her tutorials and pieces they painted because of the skills and confidence Cinnamon taught them. I love the positive and supportive community she’s created! I have a feeling if she’d been my art teacher she wouldn’t have told me I was too crafty!
But I also don’t want you to think that I hate that art teacher or that I want to shame her for her comment. While at the time, I was angry and hurt by what she’d said about my art and my art process, I know that most likely she didn’t mean to hurt me. She was doing the best she could in an after school art program for a rural public school system where she probably wasn’t getting paid for the extra work. It’s not like it was easy for her or that she was trying to be a self-righteous judge lording over us.
No, she was trying to help me the best way she knew how. It just so happened that it resulted in an unfortunate opinion about my work that stuck with me (because I was a very sensitive child, honestly). But I hope that you know, that art shouldn’t ever be too crafty. Even straight-up crafts are art in their own way! It all stems from the creativity and passion you infuse it with.
So go out and get on with your creative and crafty self! Don’t let someone shut you down because your art is different. I mean, learn the theory and basic skills if they’re teaching it to you, but also develop your own style even if it’s something your teacher (or friends or parents, et al.) haven’t seen before. Let your art be as unique as you!